LAKELAND - A decided rebounding deficit proved fatal to the Oakleaf High girls basketball team as Plant High out of Tampa ran the numbers on the inside to beat the Knights 69-52 in the Class 7A …
LAKELAND - A decided rebounding deficit proved fatal to the Oakleaf High girls basketball team as Plant High out of Tampa ran the numbers on the inside to beat the Knights 69-52 in the Class 7A semifinal on Friday at Lakeland’s Civic Center.
“We’ve played some teams with big players; Plant was just the better team today,” said Oakleaf coach Fred Cole. “It was hard on the kids after the game, but I tried to encourage them to think about what they have accomplished this season and let it sink in. A lot of teams wished they were here.”
Plant High outrebounded Oakleaf 46-19 to take the win under the boards despite 26 points from sophomore guard Taliah Scott.
Plant was led by their senior ace Nyla Jean, who matched Scott’s 26 points for the contest. Plant also got 21 points from Vanderbilt commit Kendal Cheesman. Jean is a commit to Georgia State University.
In the game, Plant came out of the lockers firing away and quickly built an 8-2 lead with Cheesman banging home a three-pointer and Scott misfiring three times.
After a quick timeout and chat with Cole, Oakleaf started to look revved up as Scott and Fantasia James found their spots with threes to get the score to 14-13 in the blink of an eye with Plant challenging the lead with their own three-point shots keeping things interesting.
With a steal and layup from Geniyah Durante and a three by Scott to end the quarter, the Knights held a 21-20 lead at the first quarter break.
Plant started to execute give and go feeds down under to Cheesman and quickly pushed the pace to a 32-26 lead. Jumpers from James and Kaylah Turner slowed the Plant surge with Scott nailing another three to close the gap to 32-31 with 2:56 to halftime.
With Scott at 16 points and Jean mirroring Scott with 14 points, the teams got to halftime with Plant up 44-36 as Oakleaf went cold from the floor for the final 2:54 before Scott launched a three at the buzzer that missed the mark, but ironically, drew a three-shot shooting foul that gave Oakleaf a bit of momentum going into the locker rooms.
“We are a shooting team and we take a lot of shots,” said Cole. “I keep telling them to keep shooting even if they are missing because we are so streaky.”
An offensive rebound from Turner after a James drive and miss put Oakleaf on the offense, but the Knights were hitting two-pointers.
“We were only getting one shot and they would get the rebound,” said Cole. “When they don’t fall, it makes it tough to close that gap.”
Plant, 14 of 18 from the free-throw line, slowly pulled away toward the end of the third quarter to a 58-45 lead with Jean and Scott both knotted at 21 points apiece.
Turner opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer to spark her teammates with Scott driving to a layup to get the game to 60-50 with six minutes still on the clock.
At this point, Plant executed a four corner offense to drain the clock and create a foul shooting contest as Oakleaf desperately tried to close the gap but only saw errant, hurried shots missing their marks.
“I learned a lot as a coach and I think the girls learned a lot about themselves and their teammates,” said Cole. “The defining moment of the season, I think, was our huge comeback loss to Hawthorne (a one point loss after a 23 point halftime gap, Hawthorne was defending 1A champs; finished as 1A runner-up to Ponce De Leon this year). We learned then that we had some athletes that did not like to lose. We had not really been challenged until that point and that game was a good one for me even though we lost, because we grew from the loss to be tougher.”
At 1:36 to go, Cole emptied his bench to let non-starters get a shot on the floor.